Why Brenda Chapman is One Brave Evolutionary!

A few weeks ago I went with my husband and our ten year old daughter to see the Pixar film “Brave.” I enjoyed the movie and afterward we went to grab a bite to eat and debrief the movie – a family tradition. My daughter started by naming her favorite character – Merida, of course. And then her favorite scenes. My husband shared his amazement at the quality of the animation and the level of detail in the backgrounds of each scene. Then it was my turn. And to my surprise, as I started talking, I also started to cry. As I began sorting through what I thought the movie was trying to say, I realized just how much it meant to me that FINALLY a mother-daughter relationship was portrayed in a positive way in the media. That almost NEVER happens!

Making this movie was brave.

braveIn the movie, not only does the daughter, Merida, defy traditional gender roles by deciding that she doesn’t want to get married (causing some to speculate that the character was written as a lesbian), but the real bravery shown in the film is by Merida’s mother, Elinor, through a journey that delves into the complexities, intensity and depth of a mother-daughter relationship between two amazing and strong women. It’s no accident that you learn none of this from the previews of the movie – I mean who would come right?

Lots of movies get made about father-daughter relationships – and they are great – Mulan and Father of the Bride are two of my favorites. And there are TONS of movies about Fathers and sons – Finding Nemo, Star Wars, The Pursuit of Happyness, The Godfather, Field of Dreams, The Road to Perdition, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Rocky V – I could do this all day…

There are some films about moms and daughters. Usually the mom is an evil step-mother and the daughter is a gal just looking for a guy to love her. Brave is about a daughter who wants to be independent and doesn’t want to get married, and a mother who is, well, brave. The daughter is headstrong, athletic, outdoorsy, and fun. The mother is regal, wise, strong, loving – a true Queen. Subjects of the realm look to her guidance over her boisterous but well-meaning husband – they know she is the real leader (and not in the evil “eat this apple” sort of way).  She just radiates leadership.

There are lots of reasons NOT to make Brave:

  • Men probably won’t go see it
  • Teenage boys probably won’t go see it
  • Little boys probably won’t go see it
  • Oh yeah, and moms are just not that interesting

But Brenda Chapman made it anyway. And that’s what makes her one of my favorite Evolutionaries.

Last week, Ms. Magazine interviewed Chapman about her experience in the making of Brave. Brenda is one of only three women directing major animated films today and the only female director at Pixar.  You can read the interview here.

It’s no secret that the film industry is dominated by men. So how did Chapman sell this idea for a women-centric film? Actually, Chapman says it wasn’t hard. She used the angle of the “anti-princess” princess movie as her hook – that this would be anything but your typical princess film. The fact that it was not a love story with a prince but a “love story between a mother and a daughter” was intriguing. Still, there were doubts.

While Chapman was the original film director and screenplay writer, mid-way through Brave’s production Mark Andrews was brought on as director. In the final product, they share the “co-director” and “writer” titles. Citing “creative differences” around Merida’s character, Chapman says that Pixar made the decision to bring in Mark – but in the end she feels that Brave was mostly preserved and that she accomplished what she wanted to do and is happy with the final product. “What you see on the screen is still essentially my film.”

Chapman identifies herself as a feminist interested in giving young girls role models in the media that know what they are capable of, express themselves in a genuine way, and can be strong. “I wanted to tell a story in which mothers and daughters could enjoy sharing it, seeing each other and themselves in it. I wanted a real take on that deepest of relationships—mother and child—which gets even more complex when it’s mother and daughter. Most animated films that we all know and love have been directed by men. They made movies that they were comfortable with—fathers and daughters or fathers and sons—and there is nothing wrong with that. Some of them are great movies. We just need a balance here. That’s what I wanted to do—start aiming for that balance.”

Chapman’s message to young women interested in a career in the animation industry is “Do it! Chapman is also clear that women-centric movies should be marketed to the wider population. “The ridiculous current Hollywood studio mantra that girls will go see boy movies but boys won’t go see girl movies is a socially learned thing, not a natural sexual difference. The current mantra is just shortsighted and stupid. Give them good movies—fun movies, scary movies, whatever kind of movie—don’t market it “just for girls,” don’t tell them that they are less of a “man” for going to them—and they’ll come back around and find that boys will enjoy a good movie just as much as any girl.”

As I head off to the University of Mississippi this week to give a lecture for women in the MBA program, I think I’ll pass along some of Chapman’s wisdom:  Be strong. Listen and be professional. Don’t be defensive. Be tenacious. Stand back up when you get knocked down. It’s not easy, but you will get there!

As for her next Evolutionary endeavor Chapman says she is taking her time. But, “if I bring an idea to the table again, it will be on my terms next time.”

You go girl!

About Carmen Voillequé

CEO of Best Practices Media.
Co-Founder of Strategic Arts and Sciences.

Voillequé is a senior consultant and partner with Strategic Arts and Sciences and the CEO of Best Practice Media. Her background features deep experience in education, curriculum development, and management training. Voillequé works with a wide range of client groups including government agencies, financial institutions, and health care companies. Last year Voillequé completed a scope of work that allowed all of the public and private agencies who serve the needs of children in Oregon to plan and work together to maximize resources. She is also a sought after speaker and strategic planner with a reputation for tackling tough issues.


  1. The mother daughter relationship was one of things I appreciated about the film as well. I loved it for the story, but it was so nice to see the relationship there. My four year now considers Merida her favorite princess, followed by Rapunzel.

    • Carmen Voillequé says:

      Beth, I am so glad you enjoyed this post. My daughter likes Rapunzel as well – got to love the frying pan scenes! Thanks for the comment and I hope you will visit us again in the future!

  2. Thank you so much for your kind words, Carmen. I can’t tell you how good it feels when people get what I tried to do with BRAVE. I’m so glad you went to see it with your family and that you all got something out of it… and I’m THRILLED that it touched something deep in you enough to make you cry. Not that I’m glad you cried… but I guess, well… I’m glad you cried!
    I must keep up with Evolutionaries!

    • Carmen Voillequé says:

      Thank you for the response, Brenda! And thank you for making BRAVE. My mother also took my six year old nephew to see it and he was so raptly watching he forgot to eat his popcorn and candy. The movie ended and he hadn’t touched a thing! Just proves your point that what kids want are great movies – not “girl” topics or “boy” topics – just good stories. I look forward to your next project. Carmen

  3. Anne Voilleque says:

    Simply a lovely post. I too loved BRAVE, but you have managed to articulate why very well ! All best, Anne